I arrive one chilly winter evening at a freshly and warmly
decorated bungalow in Ayr, on an estate close to the town’s
racecourse, home of the Scottish Grand National. Inside, Andrew
Boyle is like many other 20 year olds at home. He’s playing
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? on his computer. His friend, Andrew
Ralph, 17, is around to see him – as usual. His mum sits in
an armchair with a cup of tea, catching her breath between jobs. He
wants beans for his tea – but no one has remembered to buy
However, Andrew has severe learning difficulties, no speech and
needs physical help 24 hours a day. Yet the house I’m sitting
in is Andrew’s house: not his mum’s or the
council’s. And he is proud of it.
His move into independent living has been managed by Partners for
Inclusion (PFI), a voluntary supported living service that was set
up to help people with learning difficulties and mental health
needs move on from institutional settings. “One of our
principles is that a person lives in a way that makes sense for
them – so we don’t do group homes. Sometimes people
want to move in with a friend and that’s fine. But we
don’t put people together because they have autism, epilepsy
or whatever,” says service manager Hugh Torrance.
However, as Andrew lived with his parents rather than in an
institution, he marked a departure for PFI. “It’s quite
easy to move people from long-stay hospitals, where, to be honest,
the services have been pretty poor, and to get them a better life.
But it’s a different proposition when people are moving on
from a family home,” says service manager, Jim
It was also tough for Andrew’s parents and siblings.
“It was almost as if we were doing him an injustice because
we had got to the stage where we felt we couldn’t
cope,” says Anne Boyle, Andrew’s mum. PFI placed
Andrew’s support team in the family home for a year before
Andrew moved out. “For us it was a nightmare having people in
our house from 9am to 10pm: we couldn’t argue or fall out!
But we wanted him to be an individual and it’s working better
than we could ever dream of,” she says.
PFI employ a staff team that work specifically with and for each
individual. “Andrew’s team works with him alone.
Andrew’s team leader, Zoe McDonald, co-ordinates what happens
at ground level to keep the decision-making as near to Andrew as
possible. So we get into a position where we have worked ourselves
out of a job, really,” says Torrance.
Andrew is one of 42 people that PFI work with – and he may
well be one of the last as, according to PFI director, Doreen
Kelly, only three more service users may be taken on. “To get
the best out of people you need to devolve power to them –
not just staff but the people we support. To do that you need
smaller systems,” she says.
Empowerment, as part of the social work lexicon, is a word bandied
about a lot. But Andrew Boyle is living the jargon.
“We’re striving to give control back to people who get
support, and move organisations out, so that they can get on living
their lives rather than being part of service-land. There are a few
similar organisations but generally what we’re offering is
quite unique – and it really ought not to be,” says
There are many questions to answer honestly in order to offer real
control to service users – and ones more taxing than those
facing Andrew Boyle on his computer game. But when Anne Boyle says,
“It’s important that Andrew’s happy and he is
– he’s ecstatic – we can really tell,” it
sounds like they, at least, have hit the jackpot.
Andrew things were happening so quickly I was feeling that a lot of
the important stuff was being lost and that we were losing the
story of what was going on,” says Torrance.
A video diary turned out to be so good that interviews were added
and a film took shape. Indeed, it was premiered at a local cinema
with Andrew and family arriving in a limousine. “We thought other
people would really benefit from this. Mum and dad were keen to
share this with other families to show how we did it,” adds
PFI staff try to
behave as if a person’s money is a direct payment. “We wrap
services around them but take out our management fee,” says
is perfect. “I think genuinely we haven’t got the real
relationships or friendships thing going yet. The people we work
with have a lot of paid people in their life. We have some people
who have made some real connections with their communities but it’s
not across the board.” says Kelly.